Australia: A Battle to Win Back Ancestral Lands

Putuparri and the Rainmakers

Directed by Nicole Ma (2015)

Film Review

This is a very poignant documentary about the indigenous elders who led the effort to reclaim their land in the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia.

After years of protesting about mining in their sacred land, in 1992 aboriginal Australians won the right to claim title to their ancestral lands if they could prove their historic connection to them. In this case, the narrator Putuparri’s grandparents and other aboriginals were kidnapped (for their knowledge of hidden water holes) by white cattlemen seeking to set up outback cattle ranches. When the ranch owners moved on, they dumped their 2,000 aboriginal workers in a nearby refugee camp.

In 1992, 50 elders from four tribes submitted a giant map painting of the Great Sandy Desert to prove their connection to the lands they were claiming. It took 15 years, but in 2007 a federal court granted them title to most, but not all of the ancestral land they claimed. Because the “white fellah” only knows how to draw straight lines, the sacred land of Putuparri’s grandfather was bypassed.

His family went back to court. In 2014, three months before he died, he finally won title to his ancestral land.